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Offense has rarely been a problem at Coors Field. The Rockies led the National League in runs, hits, average and slugging percentage in 2016, and they’ll return a potent lineup again next year.
But as usual, reliable pitching stands between playoff expectations and the team’s sub-.500 reality, as the most time-honored question on Blake Street continues to linger after Colorado missed the postseason for the seventh straight year: How can the Rockies consistently win at altitude in the most hitter-friendly park in all of baseball?
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The latest man charged with solving that conundrum is Bud Black. The team hired him this week to replace Walt Weiss, making Black the ninth manager in Rockies’ history. Black brings nine seasons of managerial experience from his stint with the Padres from 2007–15, and he soldiered through a 15-year MLB pitching career, winning 121 games and one ring, with the 1985 World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
Rockies’ fans hope Black will be exactly the sort of pitching-minded manager needed on a team where filling out the lineup card is easy, but crafting a reliable starting rotation and mastering the bullpen has been an inexact, sometimes impossible, science for most of the franchise’s 24-year history. The Rockies were among the bottom four teams in baseball last season in both home ERA (29th at 5.40) and overall ERA (27th at 4.91), and they had a ghastly 28 blown saves.
If Black can improve the pitching staff next year to even statistical mediocrity—say, somewhere between 15th and 20th in the league—the Rockies should have more than enough offense (they launched 205 homers last year) and defense to be a playoff contender.
Black has plenty of young arms to mentor; Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Jeff Hoffman, and Tyler Anderson should be a solid rotation. But there’s no question that for this latest managerial change to work, Rockies’ GM Jeff Bridich will have to deal for or sign some pitching help. And since Colorado isn’t exactly a dream destination for any free agent pitcher, that may mean saying goodbye to popular and talented position players such as Carlos Gonzales or Charlie Blackmon.
But perhaps most importantly, it feels like Black is supposed to be here, in LoDo, trying to resurrect the Rockies. In the past couple seasons, he’s been in the running for managerial gigs with Washington, Toronto, and Atlanta, among others, so he’s respected throughout the league. (Even though Black’s overall record in San Diego was under .500, he usually was hamstrung by a cheap and chaotic front office, and his pitching staffs almost always posted good numbers.)
That Black ended up with Colorado—a franchise that’s spit up and chewed out skipper after skipper—is itself a good omen. It says the former hurler is embracing the challenge of establishing legitimately competitive pitching in the longball capital of baseball, and that he genuinely believes in the opportunity before him. We’ll know soon enough if the baseball gods will reward his commitment and conviction.